The Guys at Bitar Market
Ok, so the last few months I’ve been shopping more at Bitar Market, a joint that sells fruit and vegetables (Fawaka w Xudrda) near my apartment. My customer loyalty was with another shop, and I would mainly go to Bitar for last-minute items, but there are these really great guys—Christian and Muslim Syrians—who work there.
Every time I stopped in, the guys would stop what they were doing to greet me. We would talk as much as my Arabic skills permitted, but even beyond the words there was a warmth and affection with these guys. The friendliness got to a point that even when one of them spotted me walking home with my bags from another shop, I would get an enthusiastic greeting. I hate to take business away from any of these shops, but these days I’m getting all my fawaka and xudra from Bitar.
So, I stop into Bitar several times a week. As soon as I start picking out veggies, one of the guys will fill my bag for me then take it to the scales. That’s a pretty common practice here, and it’s customary to tip them a bit. These guys are Syrian, which means they’re probably sending whatever they can to their families back home. So, I try to tip these guys pretty generously. A few weeks ago, though, I tried to hand a few bills to one of the guys I’ve been getting to know—and he held his hand up, as if to make it clear that this isn’t why he’s helping me.
Relationships mean something here.
Last week, I got up early to go down to Bitar in the morning hours when they unload the trucks, to take some photos before the customers come. It was cold and wet. I lined up shots while they worked. I like the process of “listening” with the camera, figuring out how to use the lens and pixels to tell the story I’m seeing in these guys.
I’m ready to go after a couple hours of snapping pics and hanging out with the guys, and of course they want the pictures. As I give one of the guys my number, he smiles wide and mutters “Oh my God! Oh my God!” It’s weird for me when I receive these reactions like I’m a minor celebrity, but I’m glad that our growing friendship means something for them as well. Phone numbers are exchanged all around.
I’ve barely walked through my apartment door when I start getting messages from the guys: Calls and Texts and voice messages on WhatsApp (a popular messaging App in the ME). My Arabic is still weak, so it takes a lot of effort to figure out what they’re trying to say.